In Ann Arbor, I’d been known as “the Alaska guy,” which now felt like a pose. Feeling too Alaska for the MFA book-world had supplanted how much of my life I’d felt too book for Alaska. Maybe that was why I’d been unable to progress on my novel. I’d left this place, after all. Had I ever really loved it, or just the way it let me represent myself?
As a toddler, I devoured reruns of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and even in the 1970s still occasionally saw the civil defense film Duck and Cover. It was an everyday occurrence to see the yellow and black signs marking the way to the nearest fallout shelter in schools, post offices, and stores. There was no escaping the Cold War’s shadow.
To forget Etta Moten is to miss the chance to celebrate a life as eventful as the twentieth century she traversed, an American biography that boasted not only a second act but a third and a triumphant fourth.
I came to Banaras in the winter of 2010 seeking answer to one question: was the sari—the nine-yard piece of cloth worn by Indian women—Hindu or Muslim? This might sound like an odd question, but in the context of India it isn’t, where even allegedly eating beef can get a person beaten to death, or while killing a cow in the state of Gujarat earns life imprisonment.
The public nature of the hate is critical to its Americanizing function. Shouting hate slogans, hateful slurs, is our form of communist denunciation and coerced betrayals of loved ones — only, instead of marking Party membership, by offering up traitors to a cause, capitalists, enemies of state — we signal we are part of the majority by verbalizing hate, demonization, exclusion.